The Theory of Chaos

Monday, November 13, 2006

Screenwriters take heed-

The scripts that you write are about emotions FIRST. It is not how you will PITCH it, it is not how the marketing gnomes will SELL it, but it must be how you WRITE it or else you’re on a slow boat to Hacksville. I just re-watched Back to the Future, I’m prepping a lecture on it for tomorrow’s screenwriting class, and it reminded me that while the fiendishly-constructed plot is about time travel, the STORY is grounded in the feelings of a teenage boy who just wants what every teenage boy wants: A) to get a hot girl alone in a cool car, B) play his guitar at the school dance, and C) not be so fracking embarrassed by his family. And by the end, he’s achieved all three, except that the hot girl was his mom, he had to play Chuck Berry at the dance, and he made his family cool by threatening the fabric of space and time.

The plot is the mechanism by which we get to enjoy the exercise of those feelings. Everything short of that is just a carnival ride.

was not a movie about a boat that sank. It was a love story – however hackneyed, however awful the dialogue, it worked on audiences because the disaster in all its size was positioned behind the love story to underline and expand the EMOTION. In an opera you know they must love each other a lot because the music’s so loud. Die Hard is about a husband and wife so fractured they have to blow up a damned building to get over their egos and remember why they love each other.

Plot is difficult. Really difficult, and distracting, because there’s just so much weaving and welding and hammering you have to do to make all the pieces fit. By contrast emotion seems absurdly easy. But then ask yourself – how many days of your life have you been honest with every one of your feelings from rise to sleep? How much of that do you have to tap into as a writer? What will it do to your sanity to go there, to really do it right?

Let’s not forget, most of us took up this trade because the real world and real feelings were too tricksy to face, and we wanted to go create our own world and have it be SO MUCH BETTER. Not so easy now, is it?


Reward yourself. Have a cookie.


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